Baseball fans of all interests will tremendously enjoy this reprint of the 1967 version of Jocko with a new afterword by Robert W. Creamer. John B. "Jocko" Conlan (1899-1989) was the third umpire to be selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the first to gain that honor purely on the basis of his abilities-and not as an "institution" as the first two had been-the early umpires Bill Klem and Tommy Connelly.
This book is a gem since the fine baseball writer, Robert Creamer listened to Jocko Conlan talk about his forty-four years in baseball and wove his non-stop anecdotes and perceptions into this most engaging book.
Conlan got into umpiring by accident one day in 1936 when playing for the White Sox of his native Chicago. The temperature was 114 degrees and one of the two umpires assigned to the game passed out due to the heat. Conlan, from the White Sox bench, volunteered to take the fallen umpire's place and Rogers Hornsby, the opposing Browns' manager, accepted him. Conlan worked the bases and on a close play called one of his teammates out at third. His own manager, Jimmy Dykes, put up an argument, but Luke Appling the player called out, backed up Jocko's call. That was the beginning.
The book moves through Conlan's career in the minor leagues with fascinating chapters about the situations and players he met along the way. One of the funniest is the story of Casey Stengel who was manager when Conlan was a player with Newark. Casey had his players show up at 10:30 for a 2:30 game and then would lecture them on the finer points of baseball as he was getting dressed in the clubhouse. One day he was explaining how to hit a curveball and demonstrated it with a bat which he swung into a box of sawdust filled with "chew tobacco and all the slop that guys who had been playing cards in the clubhouse had tossed into it." When Casey swung, he hit the box and the sawdust and chew tobacco and slop flew up in the air and went all over Max Rosenfield-the player Casey was instructing. He was wearing a light Palm Beach suit that received the full force of the slop. Rosenbeld cried to Casey: "You can show me how to hit, but you don't have to cover me with all that slop!"
But, the story continues. It was then time to go on the field for the game and Casey had forgotten to put his pants on. He told Conlan to pick up some equipment and go out to the field with him. As Conlan told it:
I picked up the ball bag and followed him. He was carrying a couple of towels, I think, and a fungo bat to hit flies with to the outfielders. He still didn't have his pants on, but I didn't say a word. I walked right along with him. We went out past the concession stands and along the grandstands, and the women in the crowd were staring at Casey and saying, 'Oh! Oh, my!' A couple of them called, 'Casey! Casey!'
Stengel was walking along, swing the fungo bat like a cane. He said, 'They got some crazy women here in Toldeo.'
I said, 'Yes, I guess they do.'
We kept walking, and the people watching us were amking more and more noise. Casey looked around and frowned and he said, 'What are they hollering about? The game doesn't even start for half an hour yet.'
And then he stopped. And he looked down. And he said, 'Why, I haven't got my pants on.'
I just smiled at him.
He hit me right across the shins with that fungo bat and he said, 'Why didn't you tell me I didn't have any pants on?'
'Why, Casey,' I said, 'I didn't even notice.'
He hurried back inside and put his pants on, but when he went out on the field they were all yelling, 'Casey! Casey! Where are your pants?'
Conlan's narrative provides an inside look at baseball legends: Branch Rickey, Bill Klem, Leo Durocher, and Jackie Robinson, whom Jocko didn't like. Conlan was known for his integrity and honesty. He took control of the game when behind the plate, knew the rulebook thoroughly, and was respected throughout baseball as a premier arbiter. When he retired at the end of the 1963 season, he had participated in six World Series, six All-Star Games and in each of the four play-offs in the history of the National League. Working in the days when players-and especially umpires-were underpaid with little or no pensions, Conlan recounted: "When you talk about the low salaries back then they keep giving you that old story about how you could buy a lot more with your money in those days. I can't see that argument. I couldn't buy anything with my money back in the old days. I can buy a lot more now. I'll take a little more money any time." This kind of candor marks Conlan's talk and as Creamer remarks, "He was a curious mixture of vanity and modesty-or perhaps pride and honesty are the more accurate words to describe his blunt and open way." As his son John said, 'He'd never win a prize for evasiveness.'"
Readers will give this book a prize for letting us listen in on the musings of this forthright "man in blue" who set high standards for his profession and who reminisces here on great players and the entertaining situations he encountered through a long life in the national pastime.